It is so exciting to discover delicious new treats. Until recently, my only frame of reference for a babka was a vague recollection of a Seinfeld episode. I also kind of knew that they were something served on Easter. Then a while back I saw a photo of a chocolate babka on Tastespotting, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head ever since.
Since Easter is coming up, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give this decadent yeast treat a shot. Turns out, what I made is more of a Jewish babka and not the Easter type, but oh well... It is incredibly delicious, and there is no reason it couldn't still be part of your Easter spread!
For some reason, I had a feeling that I would be able to find a fantastic babka recipe on Smitten Kitchen. Maybe because Deb lives in NYC, I don't know. Regardless, I was right. Boy, was I right. I hit the babka jackpot. However, when reading through the recipe, I discovered that it made 3 loaves of this rich chocolate bread. I have no need for even one loaf, and only certain insanity would prompt me to bake three. Looking at the quantities, it is not a recipe that lends itself easily to scaling down, but I knew it was the one I wanted to try so I went ahead and did the math. A scale will be helpful for this recipe, but you can still make the babka if you don't have one. You'll just have to estimate the partial eggs.
So, what is so special about this bread? Where to start...
The actual bread element is soft, tender, creamy, sweet, not at all dry. Actually, I think it would make a better base for the St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake than the one in the recipe, as it is similar in texture but much less dry.
In almost equal proportion to the bread is chocolate. Dark, decadent, beautiful chocolate. This bread is most definitely not for the faint of heart. Even in the scaled recipe there is close to a pound of chocolate.
The less dominant flavor in the bread is cinnamon. I enjoy the combination of chocolate and cinnamon, but was unsure of the almost alarming quantity of cinnamon this recipe called for. I was afraid it would be overpowering. It was actually quite complimentary, though it is a distinguishable flavor.
To finish off this already over-the-top loaf is a streusel topping - which despite slightly resembling cauliflower, is delicious. I have never met a streusel I didn't like, and this was no exception. It is made with powdered sugar, which makes it quite crunchy when baked, and offers a wonderful counterpoint to the soft bread and rich creamy chocolate.
Before you make this babka, be warned; it has many elements and takes a good chunk of time. It is, however, completely worth it.
Make sure you read through this recipe thoroughly before starting out. As I mentioned, it was slightly strange to scale, so some of the quantities are odd. In addition, there are a lot of steps. This one requires a little more attention than your average recipe.
adapted from Martha Stewart via Smitten Kitchen
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/3 + 1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg divided (33.3 grams - 2/3 egg, 16.67 grams - 1/3 egg)
12 grams egg yolk
2 cups unbleached white flour*
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cream
*depending on the consistency of your dough, you may need more flour. I had to add almost an entire additional cup to mine.
Heat milk to 100-110 degrees. Pour into a small bowl, and add yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in another small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the sugar, 33.3 grams of egg (that's 2/3 of an egg) and the egg yolk. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together flour and salt. Add wet ingredients and mix on low until the flour is almost incorporated. Change to dough hook. Add 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon butter to mixer. Beat on medium until dough is smooth and soft, and slightly sticky. If your dough is too sticky, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time until it is the right consistency. Butter a large bowl, form dough into a ball and roll around the bowl to coat it with butter. Cover bowl with plastic and set in a warm place until doubled in size, about and hour. Meanwhile, make the chocolate filling. Place remaining sugar and butter in a medium sized bowl, and using your fingers or a pastry cutter, combine them until well incorporated. Add chocolate and toss with your fingers until completely blended (though there will of course still be chocolate chunks of different sizes). Butter a 9" x 5" loaf pan. Beat remaining egg (remember, this is 1/3 of an egg) with cream. Turn dough out on a well-floured board. Roll to a square about 16" x 16". Brush edges with the egg-wash, and sprinkle all but 2 tablespoons of the chocolate over the dough, leaving a 1/4 inch border. Roll dough tightly into a log. Pinch seam closed, pinch ends together. Twist 5 or 6 times, and lay twisted log out straight on your board. Brush the left half of log with egg-wash, and sprinkle with remaining chocolate. Fold the right side over the left, making sure your chocolate stays in place. Fold ends under, and pinch closed. Twist your doubled log two times, and place in prepared pan. Brush the top of log with egg-wash, and sprinkle with streusel (recipe below). Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let it sit in a warm place for 20-30 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350.
Bake until golden, about 55 minutes, then turn oven down to 325 and bake for about 15-20 minutes more, until the loaf is deep golden. Cool in pan on rack. Wait until babka is completely cool before cutting.
1/3 cup + 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Combine all ingredients. Using your fingers, mix until completely incorporated. Crumble, so that there are chunks ranging greatly in size.